China, China: Recent Works in Porcelain by Ah Xian

Exhibition
14 March 2001-16 September 2001 Powerhouse Museum

China, China: recent works in porcelain by Ah Xian was an exhibition of 40 hand-painted, porcelain body-casts by one of the most interesting artists to emerge from post-cultural revolution China.

The exhibition was the result of the artist’s sojourn to Jingdezhen, China, the historic centre of China’s fine porcelain production, in 1999.

It was also the result of a decade long philosophical journey in which the artist had sought to reconcile his own cultural background with the artistic language and values of the West.

The China, China series includes a group of vibrantly coloured porcelain busts, and a few pairs of legs, conceived and cast by Ah Xian, that were made in kilns at Jingdezhen and hand-painted under his direction by local artisans.

The exhibition also included a selection of proto-type porcelain busts made from body casts created by the artist at the Sydney College of the Arts ceramic studio in 1998.

The brilliant white porcelain sculptures conveyed a myriad of complex emotions as a result of the intimate process of body-casting and the superimposition of detailed hand-painted designs.

The eyes are shut and the faces are without expression creating a haunting contrast between the traditional porcelain designs originally used on vessels made for the Chinese court during the Ming (1364-1643) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and the three-dimensional body-casts.

The models for the busts were Chinese and non-Chinese men and women, many of whom included Ah Xian’s friends and family.

Through traditional Chinese materials Ah Xian found a poignant medium to communicate his personal experience of cultural crossing in the late 20th century.

As Ah Xian observed: “Twenty years after the Cultural Revolution and after China has opened its door to the world, we as artists with a Chinese background, should have learned and been sufficiently influenced by Western philosophy, art and culture as a whole to attain a level of confidence and capability to tell story about ourselves using our own language. I feel that we should not need to tell stories about the Chinese situation only through the foreign languages that we have just learnt.”

In 1989 Ah Xian (born Beijing 1960) first visited Australia as a visiting artist at the Tasmanian School of Art. From 1990 he lived in Sydney. The development and production of the China, China series was supported by a grant from the Australia Council.

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